Domestic violence against women: Recognise patterns, seek help

Domestic violence — also called intimate partner violence — occurs between people in an intimate relationship. Domestic violence can take many forms, including emotional, sexual and physical abuse and threats of abuse. Domestic violence can happen in heterosexual or same-sex relationships.

FLASKBACK: Human Services Minister Dr Vindhya Persaud (fourth from right) along with stakeholders including, from left to right, Hilton Wong, Senior Business Manager, GTT; Diego Alphonso, Senior Gender Affairs Officer at the Ministry; Assistant Commissioner of Police Clifton Hicken. Head of Business Sales for Digicel Guyana, Nalini Vieira; and Irfan Akhtar, Deputy Representative, UNICEF, are pictured first and third from right

Abusive relationships always involve an imbalance of power and control. An abuser uses intimidating, hurtful words and behaviors to control his or her partner.
It might not be easy to identify domestic violence at first. While some relationships are clearly abusive from the outset, abuse often starts subtly and gets worse over time. You might be experiencing domestic violence if you’re in a relationship with someone who:
• Calls you names, insults you or puts you down
• Prevents or discourages you from going to work or school or seeing family members or friends
• Tries to control how you spend money, where you go, what medicines you take or what you wear
• Acts jealous or possessive or constantly accuses you of being unfaithful
• Gets angry when drinking alcohol or using drugs
• Tries to control whether you can see a health care provider
• Threatens you with violence or a weapon
• Hits, kicks, shoves, slaps, chokes or otherwise hurts you, your children or your pets
• Forces you to have sex or engage in sexual acts against your will
• Blames you for his or her violent behavior or tells you that you deserve it
• Threatens to tell friends, family, colleagues or community members your sexual orientation or gender identity
If you’re lesbian, bisexual or transgender, you might also be experiencing domestic violence if you’re in a relationship with someone who:
• Tells you that authorities won’t help a lesbian, bisexual or transgender person
• Tells you that leaving the relationship means you’re admitting that lesbian, bisexual or transgender relationships are deviant
• Says women can’t be violent
• Justifies abuse by telling you that you’re not “really” lesbian, bisexual or transgender
Don’t take the blame
You may not be ready to seek help because you believe you’re at least partially to blame for the abuse in the relationship. Reasons may include:
• Your partner blames you for the violence in your relationship. Abusive partners rarely take responsibility for their actions.
• Your partner only exhibits abusive behavior with you. Abusers are often concerned with outward appearances, and may appear charming and stable to those outside of your relationship. This may cause you to believe that his or her actions can only be explained by something you’ve done.
• Therapists and doctors who see you alone or with your partner haven’t detected a problem. If you haven’t told your doctor or other health care providers about the abuse, they may only take note of unhealthy patterns in your thinking or behavior, which can lead to a misdiagnosis. For example, survivors of intimate partner violence may develop symptoms that resemble personality disorders. Exposure to intimate partner violence also increases your risk of mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
If health care providers focus on your symptoms, this may worsen your fear that you are responsible for the abuse in your relationship.
• You have acted out verbally or physically against your abuser, yelling, pushing, or hitting him or her during conflicts. You may worry that you are abusive, but it’s much more likely that you acted in self-defense or intense emotional distress. Your abuser may use such incidents to manipulate you, describing them as proof that you are the abusive partner.
If you’re having trouble identifying what’s happening, take a step back and look at larger patterns in your relationship. Then, review the signs of domestic violence. In an abusive relationship, the person who routinely uses these behaviors is the abuser. The person on the receiving end is being abused.

Pregnancy, children and abuse
Sometimes domestic violence begins — or increases — during pregnancy, putting your health and the baby’s health at risk. The danger continues after the baby is born.
Even if your child is not abused, simply witnessing domestic violence can be harmful. Children who grow up in abusive homes are more likely to be abused and have behavioral problems than are other children. As adults, they’re more likely to become abusers or think abuse is a normal part of relationships.
You might worry that telling the truth will further endanger you, your child or other family members — and that it might break up your family — but seeking help is the best way to protect your children and yourself.

Break the cycle
If you’re in an abusive situation, you might recognize this pattern:
• Your abuser threatens violence.
• Your abuser strikes.
• Your abuser apologizes, promises to change and offers gifts.
• The cycle repeats itself.
Typically, the violence becomes more frequent and severe over time.
The longer you stay in an abusive relationship, the greater the physical and emotional toll. You might become depressed and anxious, or begin to doubt your ability to take care of yourself. You might feel helpless or paralyzed.

Create a safety plan
Leaving an abuser can be dangerous. Consider taking these precautions:
• Call a women’s shelter or domestic violence hotline for advice. Make the call at a safe time — when the abuser isn’t around — or from a friend’s house or other safe location.
• Pack an emergency bag that includes items you’ll need when you leave, such as extra clothes and keys. Leave the bag in a safe place. Keep important personal papers, money and prescription medications handy so that you can take them with you on short notice.
• Know exactly where you’ll go and how you’ll get there.

Protect your communication
and location
An abuser can use technology to monitor your telephone and online communication and to track your location. If you’re concerned for your safety, seek help. To maintain your privacy:
• Use phones cautiously. Your abuser might intercept calls and listen to your conversations. He or she might use caller ID, check your cellphone or search your phone billing records to see your call and texting history.
• Use your home computer cautiously. Your abuser might use spyware to monitor your emails and the websites you visit. Consider using a computer at work, the library or at a friend’s house to seek help.
• Remove GPS devices from your vehicle. Your abuser might use a GPS device to pinpoint your location.
• Frequently change your email password. Choose passwords that would be impossible for your abuser to guess.
• Clear your viewing history. Follow your browser’s instructions to clear any record of websites or graphics you’ve viewed.

Seek help
In Guyana there are a number of organisations that provides help for domestic violence victims. The Ministry of Human Services and Social Security recently launched the 914toll-free hotline for persons experiencing domestic abuse.
When a call is placed between the hours of 08:00hrs and 16:30hrs, it would be routed to a trained customer service operator, who, in turn, will connect the call to a Social Worker. Calls made after working hours and during weekends will be routed to the mobile handsets of Social Workers where all calls will be addressed with confidentiality. The Social Workers will provide necessary consultations and refer children and parents to local service providers and other relevant agencies. (Excerpts from Mayo Clinic)